I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Summary:  Fourteen poets have written childhood remembrances, with an emphasis on their cultural heritage and how it shaped them.  Each poem is illustrated by a different artist, and every artist and poet has written a sentence or two about their art or writing.  Some (“Grandpa” by Douglas Florian; “Amazing Auntie Anne” by Cynthia Leitich Smith) celebrate a person; others (“Route 66” by Marilyn Nelson; “Tepechapa River” by Jorge Tetl Argueta), a particular place; and still others (“Speak Up” by Janet S. Wong; “Pick One” by Nick Bruel) speak to the experience of growing up as an immigrant in America.  Includes brief biographical information and photos of all the writers and illustrators. 56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This beautiful and accessible collection of poetry and artwork shows readers the variety of experiences in America and may inspire them to find a way to express their own story through writing or art.

Cons:  The cover and title didn’t really grab me (sorry, Sean Qualls, I generally love your work); I was pleasantly surprised once I dove in.  

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If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Women Who Caught the Babies:  A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Summary:  Eloise Greenfield kicks things off with a five-page introduction giving a brief history of midwives, starting in Africa a few hundred years ago, traveling to slavery in America, and finishing up with midwives today.  This section is illustrated with black and white photographs. The rest of the book is her poetry, celebrating midwives of the past and present. There are seven poems altogether, from “Africa to America” to “After Emancipation, 1863” to “The Early 2000s”.  The final piece, “Miss Rovenia Mayo” is about the midwife who “caught” Eloise Greenfield on May 17, 1929. Includes a bibliography. 32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  We should all hope to be producing works of art like this at the age of 90.  The poetry is lyrical and the illustrations are unique and fascinating. The Caldecott committee can add this to its list of works to consider, along with another Daniel Minter book, Going Down Home With Daddy.

Cons:  This doesn’t seem like a book most kids will pick up on their own. 

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At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

Published by Kokila

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Summary:  “At the mountain’s base grows a hickory tree.  Beneath this sits a cabin. In that cabin lies a cozy kitchen, where a stove’s fire warms.”  Around that stove, a family gathers and sings. They’re thinking of another woman in their family who is a pilot, away at war, but praying for peace.  Includes an author’s note about American Indian and Alaska Native women who have served in wars. One pilot in particular is profiled, Ola Mildred Rexroat, who was the only Native woman among 1074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A brief, but beautiful poem celebrating Native women pilots and the families who support them.  Traci Sorell’s first book We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga was a Sibert honor book last year.

Cons:  Although the poem is lovely, I didn’t really understand it until after I read the author’s note.

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16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Summary:  “Look out the window. What do you see?” After this invitation to the reader, the author tells the story of Dr. William Carlos Williams, a physician who enjoyed scribbling poems on his prescription pad or as notes to his wife.  When he looked out the window of his New Jersey office, he saw his neighbor, Thaddeus Marshall, working in his garden or carrying his vegetables to market in a red wheelbarrow. Williams wrote about what he saw in the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  “Those sixteen words do not describe Mr. Marshall’s chicken coop, or the train rattling nearby. They do not describe Mr. Marshall hefting that wheelbarrow, or the aches and pains he suffers from stooping to care for his plants. They do not describe Mr. Marshall’s life of work or caring or love.  But somehow they say just that.” Includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a list of six other poems by Williams. 40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  I wasn’t super excited at the prospect of reading a picture book about William Carlos Williams, but this tells a gentle, beautiful (and beautifully illustrated) story that also shows how an ordinary man fit poetry into his everyday life.  It makes his poetry accessible to even early elementary students. This would be a perfect read-aloud in conjunction with Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, which includes “The Red Wheelbarrow” as one of the poems the class studies.

Cons:  No photos of either Williams or Marshall. 

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Image result for red wheelbarrow william carlos williams

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People by Bethany Hegedus, foreword by Colin Johnson, illustrations by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for rise from caged

Image result for rise from caged

Summary:  Beginning with young Maya’s journey south to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, the narrative describes her early experiences of blatant racism in the deep south, and continues as she and her brother went to live with their mother in St. Louis.  Her rape by her mother’s boyfriend is described indirectly: “One day, Maya, left alone with Mr. Freeman, is anything but free. After a visit to the hospital, Maya calls out Mr. Freeman’s name as the one who hurt her.” Soon after, he was murdered, and Maya stopped speaking for several years, burying herself in books until she slowly emerged to become a dancer, actress, cable car driver, mother, and finally, a writer and activist. Ending with her death at age 86, the author assures readers that Maya’s words will “always rise rise rise”.  Includes a foreword by Angelou’s grandson; a timeline; resources for children who have been sexually abused; and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Gorgeous acrylic illustrations and poetic text detail the many different aspects of Maya Angelou’s incredible life.  Due to the horrific events of her childhood, it can be tricky to share her story with children, but Hegedus does a good job not shying away from Maya’s rape and its aftermath in a way that’s appropriate for the intended audience.  

Cons:  I had no idea Maya Angelou did so many different interesting things in her life.  It’s hard to cram it all into one picture book.

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How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by HarperCollins

Image result for how to read a book kwame alexander

Image result for how to read a book melissa sweet kwame

Summary:  You start with a book.  And a comfortable place to read.  “Once you’re comfy, peel its gentle skin like you would a clementine.”  Kwame Alexander’s poem encourages readers to celebrate each book, savoring every morsel they get from it, while Melissa Sweet’s collage illustrations provide a neon-colored background with children reading, all sorts of fonts, and shapes cut from an actual book (Bambi, to be exact).  The final pages: “Now sleep. Dream. Hope. (You never reach…The End).”  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A lovely introduction to the joys of reading in Kwame Alexander’s poetic voice, eye-poppingly illustrated by Melissa Sweet with beautiful collages that reminded me why I’m still bitter that she didn’t win a Caldecott for 2016’s Some Writer

Cons:  Although this has gotten multiple starred reviews, and I can appreciate the artistry of both the text and the illustrations, I can’t help wondering if it will be appreciated by the preschool crowd.  Given the choice, I would probably read Kate Messner’s How to Read A Story as a similar introduction for this age.

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Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Published by Balzer + Bray

Image result for other words for home amazon

Summary:  Jude worries about the changes going on in her Syrian town: the tourist business has almost completely stopped, and her college-age brother is increasingly involved in protests that could get him arrested or worse.  When her mother tells Jude that she’s expecting a baby, she also reveals that the two of them are moving to Jude’s uncle’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio. In America, Jude finds both good and bad. She likes her ELL classmates and bravely decides to try out for her middle school’s production of Beauty and the Beast.  But she also must deal with a cousin who’s not thrilled to have to share her home and with racism when she starts wearing hijab.  Concern for her brother and her best friend, both of whom go missing after she gets to the U.S., and for her father, whose fate in Syria is uncertain, color Jude’s days.  Seeing her mother’s courage and resilience inspires her, and new friends help her to move toward a hopeful future by the end of the book. Includes an author’s note with websites to visit for more information about Syria and Syrian refugees.  352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  The poetic language of this novel in verse is both beautiful and accessible, and American readers will get a greater understanding of what life for immigrants and refugees is like.  I would certainly not be unhappy to see this on the Newbery or other award list next January.

Cons:  The future still seems pretty uncertain for Jude and her family.

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